President Obama and Vice President Biden today released their 2011 tax returns, ahead of Tuesday’s tax filing deadline. The returns show that Obama paid a 20.5 percent tax rate last year on $789,674 in income. About half of that income came from the President’s salary, while the rest came from book royalties.
As White House Press Secretary Jay Carney noted in a blog post, “under the President?s own tax proposals, including the expiration of the high-income tax cuts and limitations on the value of tax preferences for high-income households, he would pay more in taxes.” Obama, indeed, would see his tax rate go up due to his called for expiration of the Bush tax cuts above $250,000 in income. Obama would not, however, have been affected by the Buffett Rule — which he is stumping for this week — in 2011, as he did not have $1 million in income.
The likely Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, meanwhile, would do the opposite with his tax plan, cutting his taxes on his already sky high income. Romney’s first, more restrained tax plan, would have cut his own taxes nearly in half. And that was before he included a 20 percent reduction in the top tax rate. In 2010, Romney paid a 13.9 percent tax rate. He has released his estimated tax bill for 2011, which shows him paying about a 15 percent rate on more than $20 million in income.
Romney also supports the House Republican budget authored by Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI), which would give millionaires a tax break worth $187,000 on top of the break they would get from extending the Bush tax cuts. The GOP budget, meanwhile, would actually raise taxes on low-income working Americans, according to an analysis released yesterday by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Since the 1980′s, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority (SEPTA) has required gender stickers on monthly transit passes to prevent spouses from sharing them, but this has created a problem for many transgender people, whose gender identity might not match how the state legally defines them. A group called Riders Against Gender Exclusion (RAGE) has lobbied since 2009 to change the policy and has finally reached an agreement with SEPTA to expedite removing the stickers in the coming years in advance of a new fare system that has been slow to implement. The sooner trans individuals can ride the train without having to out themselves, the better.
Pakistan will deport Osama bin Laden’s three widows and two children next week. The widows and children were held by Pakistani security forces after a U.S. special forces raid killed bin Laden last May. The widows, two Saudi nationals and one from Yemen, were sentenced to 45 days in prison for illegally residing in Pakistan. “They are likely to be deported to Saudi Arabia on April 18, as their sentence ends on April 17,” the family’s lawyer, Aamir Khalil, told Reuters. Since the May raid, the family members have been prevented from publicly discussing their time in bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound.
by Tom Laskawy, via Grist
When I examined the reasons agriculture often gets a pass in climate negotiations recently, I pointed to the fact that precise measurement of the climate impact of many industrial farming practices remains difficult and controversial. This is especially true when it comes to synthetic nitrogen fertilizer.
The effect of excess fertilizer on our waterways gets much more attention than it does when it enters the air. And for good reason. It?s toxic to consume nitrates in your drinking water. We?re learning that agricultural overuse of fertilizer has contaminated the drinking water of whole regions of California. Meanwhile, nitrogen that runs into the ocean causes oxygen-depleted ?dead zones? around the world. The dead zone in our own Gulf Of Mexico (measured every summer) keeps getting larger ? last year?s was the size of New Jersey.
While we know that excess fertilizer escapes farm fields as gas, exactly how much and where it goes has largely been a mystery. But it has been a mystery worth solving, as the amount of nitrous oxide ? the third most potent greenhouse gas behind carbon dioxide and methane ? in the atmosphere is increasing fast. In fact, it has risen by 20 percent since the Industrial Revolution, with a good part of that increase coming in the last 50 years. For the sake of comparison, atmospheric carbon dioxide rates have increased around 40 percent in the same period. But nitrous oxide is around 300 times more potent as a greenhouse gas. And it?s also a major ozone-depleting chemical.
Pinpointing the cause of these nitrous emissions has been made especially difficult by the fact that every molecule of nitrous oxide looks alike. And there are so many sources ? from microbes in farm fields, oceans, and natural landscapes to oceanic phenomena and human activities like rainforest destruction.
As a result, it has been impossible to know just how much is coming from fertilizer use; and Big Ag has never been made accountable. But that may have all just changed.
Now, a group of scientists at the University of California, Berkeley have found a way to ?fingerprint? various sources of nitrous oxide ? and they?ve determined that the accelerated increase in atmospheric nitrous oxide in the last few decades has indeed been due to synthetic nitrogen fertilizer use.
The researchers accomplished this feat through a fascinating technique ? using a natural ?archive? of air frozen in Antarctic ice combined with an actual archive of air samples taken from a (stunningly beautiful) pollution tracking station in Tasmania, Australia.
In their analysis, published in the journal Nature Geoscience, the scientists found that microbes in heavily fertilized farm fields produce nitrous oxide heavy with a particular isotope (nitrogen-14, for those keeping score at home). Their analysis also showed differences in the samples between the two sites that suggest the ability to create a geographical emissions map. As lead scientist Kristie Boering explains:
The fact that the isotopic composition of N2O shows a coherent signal in space and time is exciting, because now you have a way to differentiate agricultural N2O from natural ocean N2O from Amazon forest emissions from N2O returning from the stratosphere.
The result doesn?t just prove that overuse of fertilizer is causing climate change (it does). The Berkeley team also has, in essence, come up with a way to enforce restrictions on nitrous oxide emissions. As Boering observed: ?It is a tool that, ultimately, we can use to verify whether N2O emissions by agriculture or biofuel production are in line with what they say they are.?
Until now, Big Ag has been able to pay lip service to limiting fertilizer overuse without committing to, much less accepting, new regulations. And even if producers had agreed to such limitations, it would have been impossible to know whether they?d fulfilled their promises. So while this new science doesn?t take away all the political barriers to engaging agriculture in climate change negotiations, it could make it much more possible to do so.
The Berkeley researchers fully understand that eliminating synthetic nitrogen fertilizer isn?t exactly an option. But they hope that farmers will spend more time figuring out how to use it more efficiently ? and the analytical tools the researchers have developed will for the first time allow farmers to measure that efficiency precisely. Just as importantly, these tools will also enable scientists to calculate definitively the true climate impact of biofuels ? a subject of great controversy to this point.
One last aspect of this research offers a compelling reason that climate advocates and farmers (along with the rest of us) need to get behind this understandably wonky issue of fertilizer efficiency. The study found that nitrous oxide ? independent of its nature as a greenhouse gas ? also blocks one of the atmosphere?s natural cooling processes. So, cutting nitrous oxide emissions could also enhance the atmosphere?s ability to shed warmth. Taking advantage of this phenomenon would make any carbon dioxide reductions we manage to accomplish that much more effective. You don?t see too many climate mitigation ?win-wins.? Wouldn?t it be nice if we took advantage of this one?
A 17-year veteran of both traditional and online media, Tom is a founder and executive director of the Food & Environment Reporting Network and a contributing writer at Grist covering food and agricultural policy. This piece was originally published at Grist and was re-printed with permission.
In a conversation with Andrew Goldman in the New York Times Magazine this weekend, Mika Brzezinski has some harsh words for her female colleagues in the television news business:
In your book, ?Knowing Your Value,? now in paperback, you write that every TV executive who has ever insulted your appearance has been a woman. Is there no sisterhood in television news?
No, there isn?t. Women play into each other?s weaknesses. Women worry about being liked, about making sure everyone?s comfortable in the room and about being seen as bitchy. We worry about that stuff, and it gets in the way of the goal that we?re trying to accomplish at the negotiating table.
Obviously this is a bit internally contradictory?you can’t both be worrying about pleasing everyone and shivving every lady within knifing distance. But it doesn’t seem precisely implausible that in an industry with a lot of male executives?7 of MSNBC’s 11 executives?and, Rachel Maddow and Melissa Harris-Perry notwithstanding, a sense that women fit into certain slots and have to look certain ways, women might get competitive with each other in ways that could turn from the professional to the personal. Women are entirely capable of doing (or as we’ve seen in this television season, producing) bad, sexist things. And there is a core contradiction in the idea that we’re supposed to be all sisterhood is powerful and also be more assertive and look out for our own because no one will do it for us. And of course, this is a clever way for Brzezinski to suggest that it’s other women in the media who are a problem. Some days, being a woman in the media is like living in an Escher painting of infinitely looping wrong moves and second-guesses.
Earlier this week, Medicare Trustee Charles Blahous, who also works for the Koch-funded Mercatus Center, published a study claiming the Affordable Care Act would add at least $340 billion to the federal deficit over the next decade. To produce the number — which contrasts sharply with the findings of the Congressional Budget Office — Blahous thew out the assumption that Congress will fund its entitlement obligations and instead pretended that “when the trust fund reaches its expiration, it would automatically cut benefits.”
But interestingly, Blahous made the exact opposte case to a caller concerned about the longevity of the program during his appearance this morning on Washington Journal:
CALLER: I’m on dialysis and if Medicare is done away with, then I won’t even be able to live because I can’t afford the treatment…I just wish you would rethink it because it helps me when I get dialysis. [...]
BLAHOUS: Well, this is obviously beyond a very compelling story that the caller just gave. This is actually very important to the point of my paper, which is that Medicare finances are a very important part of this whole equation. There is a bipartisan commitment at all times to upholding the solvency of Medicare. Now, one of the effects of the Affordable Care Act, is to extend the solvency…What does it mean for a situation like the callers? What it means is that the measures that the caller has to take in order to keep Medicare solvent are now somewhat relaxed moving forward because we’re showing Medicare to be solvent for eight additional years….So I would just say with respect to the viability of Medicare, you have a bipartisan commitment to upholding that…The caller should remain confident that the Medicare system will be kept solvent as it has for several decades.
In other words, he seems to be saying that once the trust funds run out, Congress will continue the spending that keeps the relevant programs going because our society has a demonstrated commitment to maintaining the social safety net for retirement, health care, and so forth. That honest answer comes from Blahous the Medicare trustee, not Blahous the Koch-funded analyst. As he himself admitted, “I certainly didn’t do [the study] wearing my hat as a Trustee.”
Last night, Newark Mayor Cory Booker (D-Krypton) ran into a burning building to save the life of his neighbor. Booker has established his credentials not only on pushing smart legislative priorities, but also in living his life according to those same progressive values.
Last night, Booker returned home from a television interview only to find his next door neighbor’s apartment on fire. He and several members of his security detail ran into the burning building in search of its residents, who were not outside. Two were led to safety immediately before Booker ran back inside to rescue the young daughter of one resident.
Det. Alex Rodriguez, who is a member of Booker’s security team, was stationed at the mayor’s residence when the fire began, and helped evacuate several residents before the mayor arrived. Rodriguez, whose primary responsibility is to ensure the safety of the mayor, tried — unsuccessfully — to stop Booker from entering the building. Booker told the Newark Star-Ledger that at one point during the rescue, he was engulfed in flames and smoke and made peace “with the fact that I was going to jump out the window.”
Booker was hospitalized for smoke inhalation and second degree burns on his hands but was released shortly afterwards. Earlier this morning, he held a press conference to explain his thinking:
I’m a neighbor that did was most neighbors would do, which is to jump into action to help a friend. I consider all of us very lucky. There was a time when I got through the kitchen and was searching for her and looked back and saw the kitchen in flames. It was really a frightening experience for me. I didn’t think we were going to get out of there.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has issued a new Statement on Religious Liberty, which complains that the Catholic Church should have a right to impose its values on fellow citizens “for the common good.” The long, wordy statement includes a list of “concrete examples” of how “religious liberty” has supposedly been compromised that includes when university campus groups are not allowed to discriminate against gay students and when Catholic Charities isn’t allowed to discriminate against same-sex couples. It then reiterates an oft-heard threat that the Catholic Church should be able to impose its public services however it pleases or it won’t at all:
Religious liberty is not only about our ability to go to Mass on Sunday or pray the Rosary at home. It is about whether we can make our contribution to the common good of all Americans. Can we do the good works our faith calls us to do, without having to compromise that very same faith? Without religious liberty properly understood, all Americans suffer, deprived of the essential contribution in education, health care, feeding the hungry, civil rights, and social services that religious Americans make every day, both here at home and overseas.
What is at stake is whether America will continue to have a free, creative, and robust civil society?or whether the state alone will determine who gets to contribute to the common good, and how they get to do it. Religious believers are part of American civil society, which includes neighbors helping each other, community associations, fraternal service clubs, sports leagues, and youth groups. All these Americans make their contribution to our common life, and they do not need the permission of the government to do so. Restrictions on religious liberty are an attack on civil society and the American genius for voluntary associations.
The statement also has the gall to invoke Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” suggesting that any restrictions on the Church’s free reign over society are “unjust” laws. Claiming not to ask “for special treatment,” the statement nevertheless encourages Catholics to intentionally disobey any laws that prevent the Church from imposing its will. Given its will so often includes policies that discriminate against women and the LGBT community, this is a complete bastardization of King’s intent. King, in fact, was challenging moderate Christian leaders that they had to do more to support equality for all and push back against laws that were unjust to others. The Catholic hierarchy has repeatedly demonstrated that it only cares about its own dominance over society, a perspective anathema to addressing “injustice anywhere.”
In honor of the non-existent communists Alan West claims constitute the Congressional Progressive Caucus, which not only is not communist, it's not even progressive.
You want to talk about a war on stay-at-home moms? How about Republican economic policies that prevent women from ever becoming one.
I'm talking about policies, for instance, like the equal-pay-for-equal-work law that embattled Governor Scott Walker just shot down in Wisconsin, thus guaranteeing that when Badger State mothers do go to work to put food on their family's table they'll now have to spend more time away from their kids in order to do it. Three cheers for Republican Family Values!!!
Republicans have always understood better than Democrats that a good offense is the best defense. And so, with the gender gap between Democrats and Republicans approaching Grand Canyon proportions, it's no mystery why Republicans are eager for a replay of the Mommy Wars of the late 1960s and early 70s when bra-burning feminists squared off against Mrs. Beaver Cleaver and her tastefully arranged string of white pearls.
And so, there was Mr. Etch-a-Sketch himself, chief Romney PR flack Eric Fehrnstrom, tweeting after a left-leaning CNN talking head put her foot in her mouth: "Obama adviser Hilary Rosen goes on CNN to debut their new 'kill Ann' strategy, and in the process insults hard-working moms."
Some things never change. Eric Fehrnstrom is still a thug and Democrats are still incurable weenies.
Hysterical that someone might think saying Mrs. Romney never worked a day in her life was an implied slur on apple pie and motherhood, the rush by Democrats -- up to and including the First Couple - to humiliate themselves by running from Hilary Rosen and her ill-chosen words shows just how much Democrats are counting on that 19-point hole Republicans have dug themselves into with woman.
Republicans, as we've learned the hard way, are terrific when it comes to launching wars on false pretenses. So, if Democrats applied even a fraction of the strategic thinking Republicans use all the time to the Republican's ginned-up War on Homemakers, they'd see Republicans have given them a golden opportunity to go on the attack and pivot back to their signature issue in this campaign: economic justice.
Social conservatives like nothing more than to assert it's liberals and feminists who are pushing women into the workplace against their will by making those who'd rather be homemakers feel inadequate and unfulfilled for their career choice. But the truth is that these moms couldn't stay home even if they wanted to since for most of them working is not a choice but a matter of economic necessity.
That's why the idea of casting a millionairess like Mrs. Romney as a sacrificing stay-at-home-mom is, when you think of it, laughable if not ludicrous.
By now we know the statistics by heart. Over the past 40 years, only incomes in the top 20% have seen any growth at all. During this time, average incomes for most Americans have either stayed level or declined. Whatever wage increases average households have earned in the past generation were made by women entering the workforce. And this at a time when incomes for those in the top 1% grew from an average of $500,000 a year to more than $2 million.
These trends haven't changed even since the Wall Street engineered collapse of the global credit markets in 2008.
As Harold Meyerson writes in the Washington Post, "three years after economic growth resumed the real value of Americans' paychecks is stubbornly still shrinking."
Profits by the S&P 500 are up 23% since 2007 while cash reserves have increased 49% during that time, in large part because firms are neither hiring in the US nor raising worker wages -- even though on average workers are generating nearly $50,000 more each year in revenue than just three years ago, says Meyerson.
So where is all the extra income going? According to University of California economist Emmanuel Saez, all income growth in the US in 2010 went to the wealthiest 10% of households, and 93% to the wealthiest 1%.
"Profits and dividends are up largely because wages are down," says Meyerson. Indeed, as JPMorgan Chase chief investment officer Michael Cembalest wrote in an investor newsletter last year: "US labor compensation is now at a 50-year low relative to both company sales and US GDP."
Even in today's fragile recovery, Meyerson says most of the jobs being created are in low-wage sectors, where 70% of all job gains in the past six months were concentrated in restaurants and hotels, health care, retail trade, and temporary employment agencies.
Construction still has an unemployment rate of 17% in part due to Republican reluctance to commit public funds for basic infrastructure construction.
The disconnect between conservative praise for full-time motherhood and conservative economic policies that prevent more women from actually being full-time moms is the same contradiction we see in the abortion debate, where pro-life conservatives talk about the sanctity of life while saying it would be just terrible for the government to lend a hand to single women forced by restrictive pro-life laws into becoming mothers against their will.
Republicans charges ring hallow when they accuse Democrats of disrespecting the hard work women do to raise a family, because at the end of the day choice and self-determination for women (as well as men) are liberal values, not conservatives ones.
When conservatives are not demanding strict conformity to ancient and rigid gender roles based on 5,000 years of Judeo-Christian doctrines, or whatever, they are hiding behind a false "individualism" that allows a few privileged multimillionaires to take away the real individual freedoms of the millions these plutocrats are thus able to defraud, exploit and abuse.
Republicans talk a good game about the virtues of motherhood. But when it comes to putting their money where their mouths are and fighting a real war on behalf of moms who want to be moms, the Republican Party, like always, has gone AWOL.
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